Loki closed the book and set it at Lyn's bedside. She reached for him, and he took her dry and wrinkled hand in his own, brushing his lips over her knuckles.
She smiled at him from her hospital bed, and he hated the oxygen tubes that slashed across her face. He hated the gray hair on her head, so thin, and he hated the age spots that dotted her cheeks. Her bony fingers tightened around his hand, but the grip was so light he could hardly call it a squeeze. "Thank you," she rasped, her eyes fluttering shut. He could count the blue veins in her eyelids.
She was so thin now. The years had ticked steadily on, and time had consumed her youth and her energy. But of her beauty, time touched nothing. When she opened her eyes again, they were as bright and blue as they had been the day he met her. "I always loved listening to that story."
"I love reading it to you." He leaned forward and gently touched his lips to her forehead. Her skin under his was warm, but he could feel the faint flutter of her pulse.
"Don't be sad," she scolded him, affecting the same tone her mother had used eighty nine years before. "I've lived a very long time."
He couldn't help the bitter laugh. "Hardly long enough at all."
"Oh, for an immortal, maybe."
He hesitated for just a moment before drawing a golden apple from the air with magic. Her face remained impassive.
She was not surprised by his offering.
"Loki," she said softly as he held the apple to her.
"Just one bite," he said. "Just one."
He glanced toward the hospital door and saw Thor hovering in the doorway. Sif and the Warriors Three hung behind him, and behind them stood Steve Rogers, all of them untouched by time in every way.
Lyn's children, Thora and Ben, stood just inside the door. The grandchildren were elsewhere.
Lyn gave him a weary smile. "All things die, Loki," she reminded him.
"You don't have to."
She pressed his fingers around the apple and pushed it toward his chest. "All things, Loki. Even gods fade over time." She smiled, relaxing into her pillow.
"Watch after Thora and Ben," she told him.
"They're grown with children of their own," he reminded her, leaving the chair at her side to sit on her bed. He drew her frail hand to his cheek and pressed a kiss to her palm.
"Yes," she said slowly. "I forgot. Where's Alex?"
His heart threatened to break. "He's been dead five years now."
Lyn smiled, and it was a serene, peaceful smile. "Oh, good. I shouldn't keep him waiting." Her fingers brushed against his cheek, and with a quiet exhalation, she died.
The machine at the side of her bed started screaming and Loki, without consideration for its cost, melted it with a flick of his fingers. Leaning over Lyn's body, he kissed her forehead, both her eyelids, and then, gently, her lips.
Rising from the bed, he strode to the door as the nurses bustled in.
Loki ignored his brother, shaking off Thor's hand. Behind him, he heard Steve Rogers murmur a word of warning to Thor. And then Loki was in Asgard, using one of Yggdrasil's many branches. One of the new ones, one that grew bright and gold.
With purpose, he strode through the halls of Asgard, and no one approached him as he made his way toward the Hall of the Slain, where the heroes feasted for all of eternity, and there he stood in the doorway, unable to enter.
Lyn, beautiful, laughing Lyn, threw her arms around Mike and Anna, was greeted warmly by Joe and Jack. Her husband was there a moment later. Alex Weaving, one of the Avengers from the West Coast, a mutant with the ability to control ice. She laughed as she embraced her family and was welcomed into a warrior's eternity.
He didn't know how long he stood there watching her, but it was dark when Frigga's presence at his side roused his attentions.
"They were wonderful mortals," she said softly. "Brave. Valiant. Tell me about them."
"Mike joined S.H.I.E.L.D. after graduating with a degree in criminal law. He became a good agent and managed the West Coast Avengers," Loki told her. "Anna became a lawyer. She was responsible for winning the landmark case that granted mutants the same rights as non-mutant American citizens. Jack became a writer." He smiled. "He sold more books than Stephen King."
Frigga made a quiet sound of pleasure. "We have many of his novels in Asgard's libraries."
"Joe joined S.H.I.E.L.D., too. As an agent," Loki continued, leaning heavily on the doorframe. "He and Steve Rogers were friends until Joe was killed by one of HYDRA's agents."
The magic absorbed from the world tree's sapling had changed her. Not drastically, but just enough. "She became a sorcerer, like me," he said. He had taught her. "And an Avenger. They called her the Golden Lady. She met her husband among the Avengers."
Thor's warm hand fell on his shoulder as Frigga wrapped her arms around one of Loki's. From whence Thor had come, Loki had no care. "You loved them," Thor said quietly. "But you loved her best."
"Yes," Loki said as he watched Lyn take her first sip of mead, as he watched her smile with delight and laugh at something Alex said. "I loved them all. But I loved her best."
And that's the end. I'm still noodling with the idea of a sequel, which I probably wouldn't start posting for a few months if I do write it - I have this obsessive need for backlog - but I hope you guys will check back for it.
Thank you so much for reading this story. It started out as something very small and ended up going in a direction I didn't expect. I had such a fun time writing it, and it's my hope that you had a fun time reading it. I can't tell you guys how much I appreciate all your reviews, favorites, alerts, and everything. You guys have been a great audience. Thank you for giving this story a chance!